You’re Homeless. How Would You Improve Your Situation?

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The following is a guest post written by me and originally posted at The Saved Quarter back in April. It was written as part of a Yakezie blog swap, where different participants in the Yakezie Personal Finance Network partnered up and traded posts on the common topic of “What would you do to improve your situation if you were homeless?”


So, if I was homeless, what would I do to improve my situation? WHEW! That is truly an involved question! But, it is also one that makes for a very interesting thought and writing exercise!
In order to begin tackling this question, I think it’s first appropriate to lay out some assumptions and ground rules for my strategy described herein. There are described below:
  • In my possession, I have $20 and a valid Driver’s License.
  • I am living in a mid-sized Midwest United States city with an adequate bus/trolley system for public transportation. In this way, transportation is not a limiting factor.
  • I do not have a college degree(s), but did graduate from high school (or have the equivalent G.E.D certification).
  • I have clothes that enable me to fit in with regular people. In this way, I don’t automatically appear homeless.
Now that the we’ve established the setting, we can explore the details of what I would do to improve my situation. 
Step 1 – Getting Set Up For Success

As is the case with many things in life, I think the first step to improving my situation if I was homeless would be to give myself the tools needed to succeed. 

The first step I would take is to acquire a secondary form of identification. This is due to the fact that many times, when you are applying for utility, debt, or banking accounts, they require multiple forms of ID. So, I would need something to supplement my driver’s license mentioned above. 

The easiest way to do this would be to get a library card! They are free, easy to get, and don’t require much in the way of existing forms of ID.
Having obtained a library card from the local library, I would then proceed to a local bank to set up a no fee checking account. This checking account will be the central place where I will manage my finances while I am improving my situation.
Finally, with the $20 I have in my wallet, I would go to the local Salvation Army and buy a very cheap used bike. This wouldn’t be anything fancy, just something that rolls and will get me around town to work.

Step 2 – Surviving Before Thriving

It is important to note that getting myself out of homelessness will not be an overnight occurrence. Therefore, I will need to locate and accept help from the various organizations out there that provide assistance to homeless people. A description of these various resources can be found below:
  • Minister at Your Local Church
    • Irregardless of my personal religious beliefs, probably the best source of information for where I can receive aid from the local community would be a minister/pastor/reverend at a local church.
    • These individuals have experience with local community aid organizations, and can serve as a true “one-stop-shop” for how I should proceed in getting assistance.

So, that is how I would personally proceed in “stabilizing” my situation. However, just to give you all an idea of the types of organizations available to aid homeless people, I’ve put together a short list below.
  • Homeless shelters
    • These are organizations, such as The Salvation Army, that provide rooms for homeless people. 
    • You can find homeless shelters in your city/state at the following link – Homeless Shelter Directory.org
  • Food banks
Step 3 – Finding Employment

All of these support organizations are great, but they will not enable me to actually get out of a state of homelessness. In order to do this, I will have to find and maintain stable employment. 
Now, because I just have a high school degree (or equivalent), finding a job will not be easy. I will of course be limited to those jobs that do not require a college degree. Furthermore, my current state (of being homeless) does not permit me time to obtain any type of certification/apprenticeship because I need income immediately. 
Even though finding a job will not be easy, I would target my job search to jobs with the potential for above-minimum-wage salaries. For example, if you were to succumb to job at McDonald’s, you probably will be making $6.50 (or whatever the minimum wage is) an hour for at least the next 6 months! This level of income simply won’t enable you to get anywhere fast. 
However, by targeting my job to the candidates listed below, I have the ability to obtain more money, if I willing to work hard. The key here is to think tips, tips, tips. 
  • Airport Valet – I’ve heard that some of these guys/gals make $100,000 per year. Just think – if you get $1 in tips per bag, that could add up quickly!
  • Restaurant Waiter
  • Tour guide/Bus or Shuttle Driver
  • Sonic Drive-In Worker
  • Porta-Potty Cleaner – This doesn’t involve tips, but due to the grotesque nature of the work, you can make $50,000 per year.
  • Telephone Telemarketing – I’ve heard that people can make $15-$20 per hour with this. Plus, it’s air-conditioned!

Permanent Housing and Next Steps

After finding a job and beginning to make some money, I can then take a step back and begin to think about finding more permanent housing options.
Because having your own apartment involves significant cost in the way of kitchen appliances, furniture, bedding, etc, I will most likely not be able to afford an apartment for quite some time. In the meantime, I would most likely try to stay in a cheap, or Extended Stay hotel that is fully furnished (with a kitchen) and has low monthly rates. 
For example, StudioPLUS Inn has rooms for around $30/night in the Midwest, which would amount to around $900-$1000 per month. This wouldn’t be as cheap as an apartment, but it would save me the cash outlay of furnishing and utility payments.
Once getting in to a more permanent living setting, I would also begin to look at ways to increase my credit, which becomes important if you want to get approved for renting an apartment or eventually, buying a house. 
There are some very established methods for doing this, which can include getting pre-paid or starter credit cards or taking out a small secured personal loan from a bank. Once I had accumulated some amount of a credit history, I would then look at getting an apartment of my own.

Conclusion and Jacob’s Deep Thoughts of the Day
So, there you have it! These are main steps I would take to improve my situation if I was homeless. Of course, the way I described it sounds very rosy and effortless. I know good and well that finding a good paying job like the ones I described is not easy.
Another general comment is that quite often, there are deeper issues involved with people that are homeless. Often, it is not simply a matter of them being “lazy” and not looking for a job. Many times, there are deeper psychological issues at work, ranging from chemical imbalances to an abusive childhood. All of these factors make getting out of a homeless state much more difficult than it would be for you or I if we were simply placed there with all our knowledge and background in-tact.
Because of this, I think it is especially important to be tolerant of homeless people and resist judging them as a “drain on society” before knowing the whole story. Similarly, if we are to help remedy their situation, it is important to treat and consider the person as a whole.

How about you all? If you were homeless, what steps would you take to improve your situation? Have you ever known any one that was homeless?


Share your experiences by commenting below!


***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/roughgroove/2473248707/lightbox/

Comments

  1. I think it's easy for us who aren't homeless to talk about what we would do to change our situation but there's so much more to it than what we think. We're separated from the emotional distress that comes with homelessness, which makes it easy to think rationally and figure out the best plan of action. I'm guilty of thinking the same way (i.e., what would I do if I were living in poverty?), but I'm trying to learn that it takes more than just smarts to get out of those situations. It also takes emotional fortitude and a good support network.
    My recent post Are You a Trader?

  2. I have never known a homeless person but I have seen many in my life. If I was homeless, I think I would volunteer as much as I could. Not only would it provide shelter for a good part of the day but I would network with a lot of new people who could maybe help me improve my situation. I would also go to clothing swaps run by local charities to make sure I could get clothes for all seasons.

    • That's a very good approach! Volunteering would expose you to a lot of good contacts!
      My recent post Help a Reader – Should You Continue to Fund Your 401k With the Recent Market Downturn?

  3. Although a very informative post, full of resources and ideas. But wonder if at all a home less would ever be reading this blog..
    My recent post Finance Is Simple, Keep It Simple, 50 simple Money Ideas

    • Point well taken One Cent At a Time! I do know that a homeless man was reading The Saved Quarter when this post originally ran!
      My recent post Help a Reader – Should You Continue to Fund Your 401k With the Recent Market Downturn?

  4. Great points on using some local resources, such as the church and shelter. I would most likely do something like recycle cans and bottles to get some cash while I was searching for a job.
    My recent post Are You Prepared For Retirement?

    • That's a good approach Robert! How much do you get compensation wise per can or bottle? I'm curious about that!
      My recent post Help a Reader – Should You Continue to Fund Your 401k With the Recent Market Downturn?

  5. affordanything says:

    I once read about a homeless teenager in New York who would ride the subway in circles all night as a place to sleep — she'd just board the subway around 10 pm, take a seat, and fall asleep for the next 7 hours as the subway went back-and-forth along its normal tracks. That girl eventually finished high school and won a scholarship to go to college, which is what caused the news story to be written about her.
    My recent post 5 Habits That Help Me Save Without Trying

  6. I think it's easy for us who aren't homeless to talk about what we would do to change our situation but there's so much more to it than what we think. We're separated from the emotional distress that comes with homelessness, which makes it easy to think rationally and figure out the best plan of action. I'm guilty of thinking the same way (i.e., what would I do if I were living in poverty?), but I'm trying to learn that it takes more than just smarts to get out of those situations. It also takes emotional fortitude and a good support network.

    • Well said Paul. That's actually why I included the “Jacob's deep thoughts” section. While I and we can hypothesize all day long about what we would do to get out of being homeless, it doesn't mean that we'd necessarily be able to do it if we were homeless because the nature of our situation would be different.
      My recent post Help a Reader – Should You Continue to Fund Your 401k With the Recent Market Downturn?

  7. The reality is much more stark than you realize. 1) To get a library card in all the towns around us, you need an address and proof of it, plus a phone number. Which only makes sense. If someone keeps a book out too long the library needs to contact them about fines. Plus they want to service their local constituency, as libraries often have local tax based funding. 2) The organizations that house people in all our neighboring counties, (Salvation Army, several rescue missions), have 5-10 day limits. 5 days are the preliminary length, up to 10 days, extended on an individual basis. So housing is quite short term. Priority is given to those undergoing treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, not regular “normal” homeless people. Some people go from place to place, but even then the well runs dry. Transportation between places is a difficulty. 3) There is one food pantry in our two town cluster and it is only open one day a week as it is run by volunteers. Vouchers, dispensed by local churches, (with proof of residency), are needed to obtain goods, to avoid fraudulent double dipping. 4) Church deacons can give some help, but resources are limited, and some churches have very specific requirements, like membership or other screening. Our town’s zoning forbids people from actually living in church buildings. Even if it did, there would be liability issues and a need for supervision overnight.

    Perhaps larger communities have more resources in general or fewer restrictions. Perhaps your part of the Midwest has more options, but here in central Pennsylvania it’s rough. Our town’s local Red Cross helps with vouchers to obtain material goods, (clothes, household items), from a local thrift shop. However the office hours are very restricted. And there are frequency and quantity limits. Another town I know of, uses a central resource all the churches contribute to. We once lived in a town where the police department issued vouchers that could be fulfilled by local churches, (also to avoid fraud). Basically it’s none of this is simple.

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